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Concerns over liquor tax funds for junior college tuition

Concerns over liquor tax funds for junior college tuition

MADISON COUNTY, Idaho - More and more high school students are earning college credits, but it comes at a cost to their local county.

It's because counties actually subsidize the tuition of credits earned at junior colleges. That money comes from a state liquor tax.

Madison County has used all of that funding and then some to help its students. Technology allows students to enroll online, and the school district hosts remote classes. Some classes taught at Madison High School are broadcast at Sugar-Salem High School, and vice versa. Rigby and Ririe high schools also participate. Students earn college credit from junior colleges, like the College of Southern Idaho.

"With how technology has changed, with students now taking course through distant locations, they are taking classes through CSI, which was never possible," said Jared Jenks, principal of Sugar-Salem High School.

Students pay $195 for a typical three-credit class at CSI. What they may not realize is the county is also spending $150 to reach the total tuition of $345 per class.

That extra money comes from the state liquor tax. With several hundred students enrolled in these classes each trimester, that adds up quickly in Madison County.

"It has taken 100 percent of that beer and alcohol tax. This is an awesome program; we want to do everything we can to help students who want to further their education, but not at the expense of breaking counties, either," said Kim Muir, Madison County clerk.

The liquor tax is intended, in part, for counties to help their citizens with the cost of junior colleges. According to state law, the county is required to fund a portion of tuition, with a limit of $3,000 per student.

"A lot of kids are taking advantage of it and enjoying going in to college and not being a true freshman and maybe being a sophomore or junior. That's a great thing to do and saves a lot of money down the road," said Darnea Lamb, assistant principal at Madison High School.

While it saves students money, the county wants the state to help reformat how the budget is done.

"We'd like to see that state take on the matter and take the funds off the top and pay the junior colleges before they disperse the tax funds back to us," said Muir.

For the high schools, though, it's not an issue.

"It's certainly working for us, I doubt the county likes paying $150 per student, but until the law changes or the legislature feels that it should be funded differently, the county will continue to pay the $150 per student," said Jenks.

The county has discussed the issue with the Legislature, which will work on it further in the next session.

Fremont County commissioners share similar concerns. They have not yet exhausted their liquor fund, but with college enrollment continuing to grow, they could need to rework the budget in the future.

The liquor tax is dispersed based on population, not sales in individual counties. 

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